'I was a little bit crazy' - Onel on his difficult past
PUBLISHED: 17:30 30 November 2019
The road to the Premier League has been particularly bumpy for Norwich City winger Onel Hernandez, who opened up on a difficult past that included falling out with coaches, losing his focus and constant knock-backs.
The Cuban winger has established himself as a pivotal part of City's squad since signing for the Canaries in January 2018 from Eintracht Braunschweig.
Speaking exclusively to the TalkNorwichCity podcast, who welcomed the City star to celebrate their 100th episode, he revealed how he struggled in the early days of his playing career.
This season, he became the first Cuban to play and score in the Premier League but it was a difficult journey from his homeland to Germany when he was six years old that saw him first introduced to football by his step father.
"I was six years old when I came with my sister alone from Cuba because my mum met my step father who is from Germany and had holidays in Cuba.
"I have a lot of respect for my step father because he is the one who introduced me to football.
"My life started in Germany after we flew there but it was a tough start because I couldn't speak German, only Spanish," Hernandez said. "My step father was my first coach, he took me to the football and explained a lot of stuff to me."
That introduction to football was supposed to help Hernandez integrate into German society but it ignited a passion that saw the winger fall in love with the beautiful game.
"I love football so much. I remember when I had a situation where I had a bad report at school and my mum came to me and said 'you can't go to football any more if you come home with a bad result from school'. I was crying and it was in this moment that I realised how important it is to me.
"I played for a lot of good youth teams in Germany and then I played a good season which led to plenty of scouts watching me. I've played all my life with good players.
"In Germany, there were players that I played with who were better than me but sometimes they lose their way because of clubbing at the weekend or smoking. They weren't focused on football any more but my thing was that I've made plenty of mistakes in my life but I've never lost my focus on football."
As a youngster, ill-discipline saw Hernandez fall out with numerous coaches which led to him being repeatedly demoted to the youth sides. Close scrapes with the law saw him drive a team-mate's car around the training ground when he didn't have a licence.
Perhaps most damaging though was an incident that saw his time at Werder Bremen come to an end after an explosive exchange with a former coach.
"I got moved to the under 23s where I met Tom [Trybull] for the first time. At this point, I didn't know if I even wanted to be a footballer. I was starting to think about what would happen if I didn't do it. After I changed to the under 23s at Werder Bremen, I had more problems with the coach there. I remember he changed me because I was not a first-team player, I was just an under 23s player and he kept putting me on the bench. I didn't like it, who likes sitting on the bench?
"He tried to bring me on in the 85th minute and I said 'you think I want to play for five minutes'? I was a little bit crazy then.
"A couple of weeks later I did it again and he said I wouldn't play for him and he sent me to the third team."
A move to Wolfsburg followed, where a successful season in the fourth tier saw Hernandez invited to train with the first-team squad where he encountered a group of players that included Kevin De Bruyne, Ivan Perisic and City's own Timm Klose.
His troubled youth career in Germany saw many turn their back on Hernandez, but his agent and former Braunschweig coach Torsten Lieberknecht were both influential on improving his career.
His progress in the German second-tier led to Stuart Webber displaying interest and he met the Cuban whilst at Huddersfield Town.
"I met him but my English was bad but at this time we were speaking about moving to Huddersfield, a year later he moved to Norwich and called again. It was really tough in this situation because he invited me to come to Norwich and I saw a game against Brentford, which we lost 2-0. I saw the city first and it was lovely. I met the coach before the game and then I saw Stiepermann at left-back and I was shocked already.
"My old club didn't want to let me go. My agent and I had to fight for that because I had a contract which had a few years left. It was a very big fight."